Ocean Beach

Are San Diego Beaches Too Clean?

Each day, employees with the city’s “beach mechanized team” comb San Diego’s beaches collecting and removing trash.

The team grooms all city beaches and shores from Ocean Beach to La Jolla and all of Mission Bay every day of the week.

“We have three beach tractors we use to rake and screen the beaches and bays, three loaders we use to load and remove kelp and debris from the beaches and bays, two trash packers we use to dump trash barrels on the beaches and bays and four 10-yards dumps we use to load and move materials in,” a city spokesman wrote in an email to NBC7 after speaking with members of the Beach Mechanized Team.

A new article in Hakai magazine, a magazine that explores science and the environment from a coastal perspective, raises the question of whether or not over-grooming urban beaches is killing off wildlife.

Sweeping the beaches each morning and keeping our oceans and beaches clean of garbage is good for the environment, the article says, but biologists and conservationists have begun to see the downside to the tidiness.

Beach cleaners historically have aimed for pristine shorelines but “today this is changing as cities look for the right balance between clean beaches and healthy beaches. Santa Monica, which had no small part in perpetuating this outdated clean dream, is now one of the leaders in progressive beach grooming strategies,” according to the article.

In addition to city teams cleaning local beaches, the San Diego Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter partner each year leading volunteers on public beach clean-ups. The groups average about four clean-ups per month.

In 2017, the volunteers removed approximately 118,018 items of trash, weighing 9,352 pounds total from along the coastline, according to the San Diego Coastkeeper’s website

“While we applaud the increases pounds per volunteer effort this year and are heartened to see decreases in certain trash types, we are still troubled by the amount of debris being collected overall,” the organization states on his website. The group collected thousands of pounds of trash, mostly plastic, including cigarette butts, plastic foam and other plastic debris.

San Diego Coastkeeper says on its website that 73,696 fewer trash items were collected in 2017 than in 2016.  

“The amount of trash on our beaches continues to be staggering, and despite the heartening decrease, there is still plenty of work left to be done,” The San Diego Coastkeeper wrote on its website about its efforts to clean beaches.

But the article in Hakai magazine says some scientists and marine biologists are beginning to rethink how often and how beaches need to be cleaned.

“Just as humans may develop allergies from growing up germ-free, beaches are suffering from being too clean, Swept flat each day, the beach can become a biological desert, devoid of the rare plant and animal species that make the coastlines so special,” the article states.

A city spokesman said the city is reviewing the new information about keeping San Diego’s beaches clean.

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